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Birds of EcuadorDiverse bird fauna of Ecuador




Andean Condor  


  is one of the largest flying birds in the world. Its majestic proportions and aerial elegance gave it its nickname King of the Andes. The bird was venerated by pre-Colombian cultures throughout the Americas. But also later newcomers to the continent were awed by it and it was named the national bird of Ecuador, being shown in the national flag's emblem. The admiration continues till today and anyone seeing it for the first time is truly impressed by this enormous vulture

Male Condor at La Paz Zoo

It has the largest wing area of any bird in the world covering some 0.6 square meters which allows it to soar easily on warm air currents. Its wing span can reach up to 3.5 meters being only surpassed by narrow winged albatrosses. It can stand up to 1.25 meters and can weigh some 12 kilograms. Its plumage is black with white feathers on the upper wings and a white thick ruff around its lower neck.


As its name suggests, its range is in the Andes, from Venezuela all the way south to Tierra del Fuego. It inhabits mostly the higher mountain regions but in some southern localities, it may move down right to the Pacific Coast. In Ecuador they are found locally only in the high Andean mountain regions where they look for dead animals to feed on. They possess keen vision and rely on that for locating carcasses in the open paramo areas. They may also check on other vulture species circling above or already feasting on dead animals. Being vultures they feed almost entirely on carrion but in rare cases when hungry, they may attack sick or newborn animals. Otherwise they lack the ability to grab living animals with their claws as do raptors. They are the only American vultures where there is a marked difference between males and females (see photos below). Young condors are browner in appearance and lack the white ruff and the white upper wings till they reach 4-5 years of age. The birds are usually quiet, only hissing at carcass sites or when it feels threatened.


Male Condor at La Paz ZooFemale Condor at La Paz Zoo

Male and female condors at Antisana volcano.

Andean Condors are the only American vultures which show a marked difference between males and females (sexual dimorphism). The male bird (to the left) is bigger than the female (to the right) and has a fleshy comb on its forehead and shows pale pinkish skin and dewlap around its face. The female has a light black face without a comb or dewlap. Males and females are often observed together in the wild as this pair observed at 4800m at Mt. Antisana Condors are monogamous birds living together with its partner their whole life.


Once every two years (if enough food is available) the female lays one egg. They seek nest sites along inaccessible rock ledges or caves on steep cliffs. This protects the egg from predators and also helps the mature birds to get air lifted with updrafts of warm air. The egg is laid on bare rock without the hassle of building a proper nest. After an incubation time of two months, the chick hatches heavily downed but helpless. At the beginning it is fed partly digested food passed directly to its beak but later the chick serves itself from carrion being droped into its nesting area.  It stays with its parents till it learns to fly and can feed for itself which may take up to one year. Condors may live for a long time, 50 years or even longer.

Male and female condors flying at Antisana volcano.

The condor soars in flight and can reach altitudes of over 6000m. Observed from underneath it is completely black with only the white ruff around the neck showing (left female bird) but from above (male at right) the white upper wing feathers are easily recognized. Primaries are usually widely spread as shown in those pictures taken at 4200m below Antisana. This volcano is located in the Eastern Andean range and close to Quito, the capital of 2 million inhabitants which is occasionally overflown by condors to reach Pichincha and other high paramo areas of the Western Cordillera.


This male condor lives in the heights of Mt. Tungurahua, an active volcano. In times of increased eruptive activities, it descends down to the town of Baños at 1800m. It circles there the zoological grounds in San Martin situated just outside of town along the deep Pastaza gorge. Once its presence is acknowledged, the zoo keepers put out some meat for this majestic creature. It first visit was in 1999 when the volcano entered into eruptions seriously again after decades of low activity. It comes down once or twice a year depending on the eruptive status. On its visits it always recognizes its fellow captive condor mates as it spends always a few minutes on top of their enclosure and is in return greeted by them.


The condor is very much in danger of disappearing from Ecuador with no more than 100 birds are believed to be still living in the country. To the north, in Colombia and Venezuela, this grand vulture is already on the verge of extinction. Only to the south in Peru, Bolivia and Chile are their numbers still sufficient but even there it is under great pressure as more and more of its habitat is destroyed. This grand bird is also hunted by sportsmen for trophy and by rural people for its meat and plumage and also for rewards put out by ranchers, who pay for fear of losing their precious cattle. Lots of damage to the population is done by poisoning of carcasses, a common practice. It can be hoped that the Andean Condor does not go the way of its cousin, the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) in the United States. Only a few of those condors were left in 1988 and those were then captured to be bred in captivity to be able to raise sufficient numbers again for release into the wild.


Painting by Humberto Latacunga

The majestic condor always played and always will play a role in the imaginations of the native inhabitants. Many legends are woven around them, e.g. where condors come to the rescue of lovers and carrying them away from social oppressions. That and more are expressed in the naive paintings of rural folks like in this one which is popular in the Quilotoa area. Painting by Humberto Latacunga who is a prominent local painter.


 Conservation Ideas


The Andean Condor is disappearing at an alarming rate in Ecuador. Only some 50 pairs nowadays are believed to roam the skies in this country. To preserve them, measures like captivity breeding and feeding stations are considered. But the most important aspect of any conservation is education of people so a specie will not arrive at extinction levels in the first place. In the case of the condor, the main culprits are local farmers who lay out poisoned carcasses for condors to feed on. They believe that condors kill their young domestic animals. Although that may occur in rare cases condors being vultures feed mostly on dead animals.

Andean Condor
belong to
the family Cathartidae or New World Vultures in the order of Ciconiiformes.

 Ecuador Specie
Name Scientific Location


Andean Condor

Vultur gryphus


 Bird Watching Tips

The best place near Quito to observe the condor in the wild is the Antisana nature reserve. To enter you have to get a permit from Mr. Delgado, the proprietor of the land surrounding the Antisana volcano ($ 10.-). Other nearby places where you have a chance to see  those birds are going up the road to Papallacta, to Pichincha refuge and Cayambe volcano. In the rest of the country good places for observation are Sangay National Park and El Cajas near Cuenca. At times of volcanic activity a male condor descends from the heights of Tungurahua to the Baños Zoo where food is laid out for it (see video clip). There also other feeding stations throughout the country.


 Avian Vocabulary

Primary: long and outermost flight feathers of the wing, attached to the hand bones of the forelimb


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